Where were you last night sat frozen on her tongue. Rosa would’ve liked to have said it, but she didn’t quite dare. Had it been anyone in the family but Jeremy, she might have, but his words were too biting and his eyes saw too much. So she contented herself with smoothing out the tablecloth again and saying “Good morning,” a bit too brightly.
“Good morning,” Jeremy said gravely in response. Somehow, despite being out all night (which she knew, having kept watch on the front door), he managed to look as rested as he couldn’t possibly be. His eyes weren’t bloodshot, nor his hair rumpled, and the creases on his suit were impeccable. She couldn’t understand how he managed it.
“I hope you like hard-boiled eggs,” she said, prompted by the timer. Scarcely hearing his response, she went about the task of laying out breakfast in silence, her mouth full of the words she hadn’t said. Jeremy sat watching her, eyebrows drawn together, mouth crooked up on one side. He looked like he was trying to solve a difficult equation in his head.
Lillian came down to breakfast just as Rosa ran out of things to do, thus saving her from having to make awkwardly polite conversation with Jeremy. “Good morning, Rosa. Jeremy.” She slid into the seat next to him and began slathering jam onto a defenseless piece of toast. “I hope you both slept well last night.” And really, she couldn’t have picked a worse thing to say if she’d been trying.
Rosa couldn’t contain her flinch, and Jeremy’s frown intensified for a moment before being replaced by silent laughter. If there was anything Rosa disliked about him more than his quick tongue and observant eye, it was his ability to laugh without anyone noticing.
Sheer ire enabled her to make it through the meal, ire and the presence of Lillian, who acted as just enough of a buffer to prevent violence from actually breaking out. Not that Jeremy would do anything which could be found as justifiable cause, but Rosa itched to remove that laughter from his eyes, certain that it was aimed at her. Somehow, the thought of physically harming him eased the pressure caused by her earlier silence, although it meant she spent the meal lost in the midst of Jeremy and Lillian’s meandering conversation.
Jeremy’s brother showed up just in time to grab the last piece of toast and Jeremy, who had apparently forgotten that he was expected at a meeting. Rosa would have happily spent the next half-hour reliving the scolding Stephen had given Jeremy, but Lillian began talking the moment the door shut behind them.
“Breakfast was wonderful this morning, wasn’t it? I mean, your food is always delicious, but I’d forgotten how much fun Jeremy is to talk to.” Rosa clashed a couple of just-washed plates into a cabinet harder than strictly necessary, and Lillian had the decency to flush slightly. “Not that your conversation isn’t scintillating, darling. It’s just. . . .” her voice trailed away, and she shrugged apologetically. “It’s nice to talk to him, is all.”
“Tea?” Rosa asked, refusing to be drawn into discussing Jeremy. Without waiting for an answer, she began filling the kettle.
“Yes, please.” Lillian, who had stood to say good bye to Jeremy and Stephen when they left, now sat down again, in Jeremy’s chair. Rosa wondered if she’d done that on purpose. Somehow, that small, probably unconscious gesture made it that much harder for Rosa to talk to her. She put the kettle on to boil, casting about for some subject that couldn’t possibly revert back to Jeremy.
What she meant to say was “Do you think it will be hot today” as a delaying tactic. But what actually came out was, “What do people do, Lillian?” She nearly dropped the handful of silverware she was washing.
Lillian, with her penchant for doing and saying exactly what Rosa didn’t want, took the question seriously. “Well, what do you mean by ‘people’? And ‘do’? I mean, for the most part people just . . . putter around, I suppose.”
And because Lillian hadn’t simply shrugged the question off, Rosa couldn’t either. “When they aren’t at work—or just puttering around, as you put it. How do they spend their evenings, once the dishes are cleared away? I know most people our age don’t—” she waved a hand full of soapy utensils, trying to find what she wanted to say. “I don’t know. Sit around drinking tea and talking about Bernard Shaw, I suppose.”
“Do we?” Lillian asked, sounding more amused than she had a right to be. “But I think I understand what you’re saying.” She tipped her chair back, the way their mother had always warned them against, and Rosa had to consciously stifle the urge to remind her not to. That would most likely end the conversation, and Rosa didn’t want that. It would mean Jeremy had won. She rinsed off the silverware instead. “I suppose most people our age go out in the evenings,” Lillian continued thoughtfully. “To bars and dance clubs and bowling alleys and places like that. Not,” she added conscientiously, “that I have any personal experience of such things.”
No, of course Lillian wouldn’t. That’s why she needed to stop spending time with Jeremy. Rosa began scrubbing out the frying pan harder than necessary, as if by that action she could remove their cousin from her sister’s life.
The kettle whistled, and Rosa left off scrubbing to fetch two mugs. “Decaf or regular?”
“Oh, regular please. I could use the caffeine.” Not that she sounded like it; Lillian was practically a power source. “Why?”
Rosa glanced up from adding tea bags to the mugs, surprised by the question. “Well, you don’t always want regular. And sometimes you have herbal.” She put covers on the mugs and set the timer for them to steep.
“Oh, no—” Lillian shook her head, and giggled, which was always an appalling sound when made by anyone except her. “Not the tea. I meant, why did you ask about what people do?” And that was the question, wasn’t it. The problem was that Rosa didn’t know the answer any more than Lillian did.
“I—” Rosa hesitated, unsure of what to say, and settled for sloshing more water around the skillet. She might not know what had made her ask, but she had a pretty strong suspicion. And she didn’t want to talk about it. “I’m not sure. It just sort of popped into my head.” And that was true enough, as far as it went.
After that, the conversation drifted, and by the time the dishes and tea were done it had settled into a debate over whether or not Hamlet had really been in love with Ophelia. And if Rosa argued her point a little more bitterly than the subject warranted, Lillian simply smiled and dug her own verbal heels in, Hamlet’s champion to the end.